Carrier Doomsday Cuts Yield Congressional Queries

House's Seapower subcommittee wants answers to how bad it would be for the Navy to knock its carrier fleet down to eight.

The House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee wants to know the exact implications of cutting the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to eight or nine should sequestration budget cuts force the Navy’s hand.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., its ranking member, issued a letter on Aug. 12 to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus asking the Navy to answer a list of questions to include:

– What is the risk to the current defense strategy with a fleet of just eight or nine nuclear powered aircraft carriers (CVNs)?At this reduced level, how many CVNs could the Navy provide our combatant commanders, both for deployment and surge?

– What is the impact of this reduced force structure on the ability of the combatant commanders to execute their current Operational Plans?

– Given the range of options the Navy would have for reducing its CVN fleet to this level, how would you assess the impact to both the carrier shipbuilding and ship-maintenance industrial base?

– Assuming a path in which the Navy attempts to maximize the operational availability of the eight or nine carrier fleet discussed, what would be the impact on the estimated service life of the carriers retained?

– What are the estimated annual costs of retaining a CVN in a reduced operational status?

– What are the estimated costs to bring a CVN from a reduced operational status to a fully operational?

For one, it’s a good bet for a Navy carrier hearing to appear on the Congressional docket in the near term.

Second, this is the exact reaction the Pentagon was hoping for when rolling out the doomsday briefing for the potential military affects should sequestration remain on the books. Defense Department officials want this on the minds of Congress. Sky-is-falling reports make for solid hearing fodder.

As long as sequestration remains law, the Pentagon is due to receive a $500 billion cut over the next decade. It is due to have its budget reduced by $52 billion next year.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the results of a Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review on Aug. 1 that predicted the worst case scenarios for the Defense Department under sequestration. Carter and  Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, unveiled a future in which the Army would have to cut its active duty end strength to 380,000 and the Air Force would have to start mothballing its B-52 fleet.

One of those scenarios include reducing the carrier fleet size to eight or nine. Forbes and McIntyre now want their own fodder to explain to their colleagues what this would mean to the Navy in hopes of arguing against sequestration.

Taking a closer look at the questions that the Seapower subcommittee formed for the Navy, the question about the estimated service life for the carriers retained should the Navy shrink to an eight or nine carrier fleet stood out. Along with the question regarding the costs of retaining a CVN in a reduced operational status.

The Navy continues on its path toward building the next generational Ford-class carriers. Many have questioned how sequestration will affect the building of the Gerald. R. Ford (CVN 78) and the John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). Would Congress consider retiring the Nimitz-class carriers faster in order to protect funding for the Ford-class?

Another fascinating question goes to the affect on the overall defense strategy. Answers to those questions will revolve around the Defense Department and the Navy’s ability to accomplish the Pacific Pivot military officials have focused on the past two years.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has said the military will not be able to accomplish the national defense strategy should the sequestration cuts be executed over the next ten years. How Mabus and his admirals see the future of a U.S. Navy with eight carriers should be interesting.